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Windows vs. Linux Web Hosting

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 2/14/2010

The majority of web hosting providers run a variety of the open-source operating system Linux, but some also offer a Microsoft-based Windows hosting option that adds extra functionality -- at a price. What do you get for the extra $5 or so per month that a Windows-based host will cost you?

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    Programming Languages

    Your choice of host should not limit the kinds of material you can place on the web, the choice of operating system or software you use to design it, or the types of clients that have access to it. From your designers’ and users’ points of view the web hosting system is transparent. But there are a few technical issues that you may want to take into consideration when making a hosting decision. Here are the main areas where Windows-based hosting differs from Linux-based:

    • Web programming languages: ASP (Active Server Pages) and ASP.NET, both developed by Microsoft, are available only on Windows hosts, while PHP (PHP Hypertext Protocol – yes, it’s a recursive acronym) is available on both. Both languages have a similar functionality, and while ASP is probably slightly more powerful, this is unlikely to be a factor unless you already have programmers working in ASP or systems written in that language. In that case it’s probably cheaper to go with a Windows host than to sack all your current programmers. But Linux developers are currently working on an ASP interpreter, so this may be a non-issue soon.

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    Databases and Authoring software

    • Database types. The closest thing to a standard database environment in use on the Web is MySQL, and just about every web host should support this. Windows-based hosts, however, also use a proprietary database connection system called ODBC DSN, which supports the Microsoft Access and Microsoft SQL Server database systems. This means, for instance, that the same database file can be used on a desktop PC with MS-Access for producing reports, running queries, etc, and also made available for users on the web to add and edit records, browse through and search via an HTML interface. This may be important if your programmers are committed to Microsoft products or if this kind of dual operation on a single data file is important to you. Otherwise, the complications and limitations involved in using databases on the web mean that ODBC doesn’t usually offer any major advantages over standard MySQL.
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    Telnet, Webmail and eCommerce

    • Telnet access. Telnet is a user-hateful command-line terminal program that provides access to your hosting system. Years ago everybody used it because it was all there was. Today it has been largely superseded by graphics-based browser control panel systems. But if you think you may need or want to use command-line instructions in setting up or running your website – and the best of British luck to you! – then Linux hosts are more likely to support them than Windows hosts.
    • Webmail software. If you are going to access your site’s email directly via the site control panel rather than having it sent on to your PC, then you will probably use different webmail software on a Windows-hosted site than a Linux-hosted site. Not necessarily better or worse – just different.
    • eCommerce software. Like webmail software, this may vary between hosting systems, although the host that you choose and the amount you pay will probably be more significant. Check your potential host’s website for details.

    So if you’re starting from scratch then there’s probably no reason not to go with a Linux host. But if you already have time and money tied up in database development and/or programming then it’s worthwhile checking if a Windows-based hosting system will save you time and money in the long run.